'Legends!' takes a swat at the art of catfighting
Some turkeys are fun to carve. Others just need to get plucked.
"Legends!" is one of the ones with feathers. James Kirkwood's 1986 comedy no doubt squawked like a turkey even the first time around, but in its current incarnation (now making a mercifully brief stop at the Shubert, in the course of a 30-week tour) it doesn't even have the appeal of cold leftovers. It's just a tedious, dated, dreary mess.
OK, maybe you think it would be fun to see "Dynasty" divas Joan Collins and Linda Evans claw at each other again. Maybe it would. But not here, not now. Not even with Nolan Miller, the prince of the '80s shoulder pad, once again designing the too-fabulous gowns they'll be trying to rip to shreds.
It's not fun because -- well, because it's just not fun. The play goes on for two hours (including the intermission that comes like a call from the governor, only to end too soon), and there is hardly a moment of it that provokes any emotion but an exasperated sigh. The jokes are stale, the name-calling is uninventive, the second-act reaching for deep emotional connection is ludicrous, and the climactic catfight takes place offstage. That wouldn't be so bad, except that one of the conceits of the production is to pipe in the sound of several offstage conversations, including this one, so that we hear the traded insults as disembodied voices .
The speakers do come in handy for the interminable one-sided phone conversations that prop up the creaky machinations of the plot. Oh, right, the plot. It's about two aging actresses, lifelong rivals, who are bamboozled by a desperate producer into reuniting onstage. The echoes between play and players weren't witty when Kirkwood first dreamed them up, for Mary Martin and Carol Channing, and they're not any wittier now. "Legends!" is a sad little thing, and that exclamation point only makes it sadder.
It's also sad to watch Evans trying to keep up with Collins. One has stage training, the other doesn't, and it's only too obvious which is which. As for the supporting actors, who must impersonate the producer, a cop-ex-machina, a male stripper, and a stereotype of a black maid who's made no less appalling by the script's winking acknowledgments that she's a stereotype, one can only hope that they're being well paid. That, at least, would give them a reason to walk into the Shubert -- something the rest of us cannot say.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com.